It is wildcard week in the NFL playoffs. Eight teams head into the first weekend in January hoping to keep their playoff hopes alive so let's preview the games and pick some winners.
Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers - PANTHERS WIN
Like pretty much everyone I'm a huge fan of Bruce Arians. He is a great coach and in getting the Cardinals into the playoffs he has excelled himself. Great coaching can only overcome so many obstacles though.
The Cardinals head into this wildcard match up with Ryan Lindley at quarterback and sadly for Arizona that is the obstacle that can't be overcome. It is just hard to see a team winning a playoff game with Ryan Lindley behind center.
That isn't to say this game will be a blowout. The Panthers are not a very good football team. They enter the playoffs after emerging from one the weakest divisions in NFL history. Carolina's poor offensive line will no doubt give Cam Newton some heart palpitating moments in the end though, at home, Cam Newton should find a way to bring up a Panthers W.
Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers - RAVENS WIN
If the presence of a player, Ryan Lindley at quarterback, is the deciding factor in the Cardinals @ Panthers game it is the absence of a player, Le'Veon Bell, that will be the deciding factor in the match up between the Ravens and Steelers.
With Bell in the side at running back the Steelers have a trio of stars, much like the Cowboys, who can be counted on to move the chains at score points. With Bell out though, the Steelers tripod is just left with just Big Ben and Antonio Brown. Without the third leg of bell Pittsburgh's tripod just isn't going to stand.
The coaching staff recognize this which is why, reportedly, they have signed Ben Tate. The desperate logic behind such a move makes sense but it isn't going to work.
Despite struggling to get over the finish line, the Ravens are a well balanced side. They defend well and a strong ground game allows them to set up Joe Flacco with the play-action pass. These strengths should be enough to give the Ravens a wildcard win on the road against a inconsistent Steelers team that is missing its star player.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Indianapolis Colts - COLTS WIN
Come January 4th you may be thinking that the holiday season is winding down. Unwanted presents have been returned for store credit/forgotten, the New Year's hangover will have receded and leftover turkey will just be a memory.
You would be wrong though. Come January 4th the holiday season is still in full swing because the annual-Bengal-lose-in-the-playoff-mas is about to beign. After losing the division to the Steelers last week, Andy Dalton and the Bengals path to the Super Bowl begins and ends in Lucas Oil Stadium.
If the Bengals are to win Jeremy Hill needs to have a huge game at running back and Andy Dalton needs not to implode. The difficulty for the Bengals is that while they should be able to run the ball on Indianapolis they will struggle to pass it. Vontae Davis will lead the Colts pass defense in shutting down A.J. Green and consequently making Andy Dalton's life as difficult as possible. When Dalton is put under pressure nothing good happens.
Meanwhile on offense, Andrew Luck will deliver another huge playoff performance. The past few weeks have been rough for the Colts offense and Luck, but in the fourth quarter and OT against the Titans, Luck seemed to be finding some form. He will continue this into the playoffs and vanquish the Bengals.
Detroit Lions @ Dallas Cowboys - LIONS WIN
With the news that Ndamukong Suh's suspension has been downgraded to a $70,000 fine, Detroit's chances of coming out of the AT&T Stadium with a win are suddenly very healthy.
Without Suh's uniquely disruptive presence at the line of scrimmage it would be hard to see the Dallas Cowboys offensive line being troubled at all. Without Suh commanding double teams the Cowboys offensive line would likely do what it has done all season and dominate the opposition defense. With Suh playing, though that calculus is completely changed.
The Cowboys offensive line will still do a good job in protecting Romo and blocking for DeMarco Murray but it will not deliver the dominance that the Cowboys need to win. With Suh playing, the Lions offense should get enough of the ball to be effective. If Matt Stafford gets enough time on the turf then Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson will score enough points to edge a close game for Detroit.